Monday, April 11, 2005

The Sacred Figment

The Sacred Figment
Siobhan Nassalong

Before the Little Ninjas karate class starts, my son, Daniel, and his five-year-old fellow ninjas are comparing gummy gaps in their smiles—another notch in the Big Boy Belt, the coveted Lost Tooth. "I think this one is a little loose...." say the little ninjas in their matching white suits and bare feet, running their tongues over their gum lines with fierce concentration. Miss Esse, the instructor, has perfected the art of feigning interest and excitement with the same intensity she brings to leading the little ninja army through kicks, jumps and "Hi-yaa!"'s. And then she says, "Are you going to get something from the Tooth Fariy?" I breathe a quiet sigh of disappointment, shooting my eyes over to Daniel to check his reaction. We've been over this a million times in his short life, but I'm still nervous. He seeks me out in the crowd of observing Karate-Mommies, smiles and shakes his head "No".

Much to the chagrin of family members and despite popular parenting trends, I have taught my son that there is no such thing as a Tooth Fairy, Santa Clause or an Easter Bunny.

My fellow Karate-Mommies say nothing, maybe they didn't notice, or feel that they don't know me well enough to voice their horror at the selfish deprivation of my child's youth. My friends and family have not been so polite. I understand their position. These things are tradition, we grew up with Santa, how can we take that away from our children? Special events are rendered meaningless and dull when you take away the Magic of the Sacred Figment.

Flashback to 1982. Ronald Reagan is president, my dad is driving a black 1972 Buick like a two door yacht, I'm sporting the original Strawberry Shortcake on my sneakers, and an Iraqi kid, Abdullah, starts another fight with a classmate, and this's about Santa. Abdullah says that his dad says that Santa doesn't exist and it's just our parents leaving us presents. My six-year-old heart drops—Blasphemy! So I tell this little punk that the reason he doesn't get anything is because he's Bad. Abdullah just laughs at me, pulling a comb out of his back pocket, and smoothes his curly hair-like the Fonz. However, the unprecedented level of confidence displayed in this six-year-old left enough of a grain of doubt in my mind that I needed to take the matter up with a trusted elder: my fourteen-year-old neighbor. My query was answered when she took me aside, placed her hands on my shoulders and told me a story of a little girl who didn’t believe in Santa.

This little girl thought that her parents (!) were leaving the presents for her and using the whole Santa thing as blackmail for her to obey their rules. So the little girl stayed up on Christmas Eve, waiting until she heard a noise in the living room. She crept downstairs in her slippers and nightgown, ready to out her parents in a surprise ambush-but lo and behold, there stood a fat old man digging in a brown sack and extracting exactly the My Little Pony Dream Castle for which she had been begging her parents!

"Santa you DO exist!" she yelled in giddy astonishment. Well, Santa was so shocked to see this little girl jump out at him that he practically had a coronary, then got angry, put the castle back in the bag and went right back up the chimney, leaving nothing for the little girl. The girl never received Christmas presents again!

Well now that means business.

I had proof from a credible source that not only does Santa exist, but he is serious about not being seen, and he apparently has a heart condition. I was a true believer, now more than before, I was a born-again Santa-ite.

As the years went by I lost faith in the Tooth Fairy when she forgot to leave money under my pillow. When my parents found out, they offered to write me a check. Then the Easter Bunny followed suit when I celebrated Easter in Florida and the rabbit had the pest-related foresight to leave the basket in the fridge.(I didn't buy his concern for ant-infestation). But I always held a torch for Santa.
I don't know how old I was when I finally gave up on Santa, but it was OLD. By then I had learned some very powerful life lessons:

1. Having faith in something you can't see never pans out, including but not limited to: Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Hanukah Harry, witches, monsters, angels, Jesus, George Washington and God.

2. Parents, adults and other role models will blatantly make up the most fantastic lies to get kids to comply.

What makes these figments so sacred? What are we achieving by perpetuating these myth? Why do these kinds of questions make people so uncomfortable? Santa sets a precedent for the rest of your life that you will be lied to, that ignorance is bliss, and that growing up will result in disappointment.

I want my kids to know that I will always tell them the truth. A bond should exist between people that there will be no lies, no matter what the harsh truth is, and I want to teach by example that my kids are worthy of respect and not to be lied to. They, hopefully, in return, will offer me that same respect.

Now do I expect my children to always tell me the truth? No. Do I think that when they are sixteen and come home at 2am and I ask where the hell they've been they'll start telling an ass-saving lie-then stop mid-sentence, say, "Wait, mom never lied to us about Santa, I must tell the truth!" then feel all warm and fuzzy and spill the whole story about the kegger and the house party and the cops and the tattoo? No, not really, but how can I ever expect them to at least consider it when I've taught them that we lie to people to make them happy?

But what is left of Xmas without Santa? What is the loss of a tooth with out the Tooth Fairy? What is Easter without the Bunny?

Well, isn't Easter a Christian holy time in remembrance of their Son of God, Jesus, dying on the cross for their sins (including lying) and his subsequent resurrection from death? Most of the traditions practiced at Easter are ancient European celebrations of Spring, which falls right around the same time. Rebirth represented by bunnies and eggs. I don't know when the bunny started hiding the eggs, or if finding the eggs somehow represents Jesus coming out of the Cave, or if there were decorated hard-boiled eggs at the Last Supper, or maybe rabbit stew. Maybe "Hide the eggs and find them before they rot" was an old Jewish game from Jesus' time—this was 2000 years ago and there was no cable.

What about the Tooth Fairy? Traditionally, losing a tooth would be considered a step towards adulthood. To the Ancients this was a part of the initiation rite, the elders would take said tooth, place it directly under the pillow of the head of the tooth lossee who had to prove his/her bravery by sleeping through the night under direct threat of a small winged humanoid that would enter the room and remove the tooth from under the child's head. The reward for this act was usually about a quarter.

I won't even go there with Santa. (Look for my multi-volumed series to be released called "No, Virginia, there is no Santa Clause", in which I question lining up our children to pay homage to the all-knowing, all-seeing Jesus-Zeus-God figure on the throne in our favorite place of worship, the mall, hoping that they will be kindly judged and compensated for their good acts in merchandise.)

The reason I am somewhat sarcastically poking fun at what are very important traditions to many people in the west, is to show how strange and irrelevant they may seem from another perspective. I want to show how these sacred figments actually detract from the true meaning of our experiences. Holidays do have actual purposes, be it religious devotion-Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Wiccan or what have you, reunion with loved ones, special family gatherings, breaks from labor, or just a time to pause and reflect on the changing times and passing of the seasons. I have heard that Christmas is an antidote to Seasonal Affective Disorder and there's nothing wrong with that.

Now don't go home and announce that there will be no more Christmas (and if you do, don't mention my name!). This manifesto is a call to the sensible among us to look at the sacred figment from another perspective and re-evaluate the way we go through the motions, and to remember the true personal meanings of our celebrations. But if you do decide to drop the bomb, go easy, although inevitable, to some kids this is like a death. To others, it is a relief not to have to play along in order to win the booty. (How much of this is really for US anyway?)

Proceed thoughtfully and celebrate meaningfully.

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